Two boys, reading a book on a lawn in the afternoon

How to Make Sure Your Child is Reading at the Appropriate Level

Reading should challenge a child to learn without becoming too frustrating. The child should encounter new vocabulary and grammatical constructions without being overwhelmed by them. Knowing how to interpret child reading level scores helps you choose reading material that’s appropriate for your child’s abilities.

Child Reading Level Scores

Most child reading level scores are expressed as numerical values. For instance, a child with a 5.1 score reads at the beginning of the fifth grade, a child with a 5.5 score is at the reading level one would expect in the middle of the fifth grade, and so on.

One of the most popular child reading level standards is the Lexile system, which expresses the child’s score as a number between 0 and about 2000, followed by an L. The Common Core Standard’s Lexile recommendations are as follows:

Many children’s books have the child reading level printed clearly on the back or the spine of the book, so if you know your own child’s score, locating appropriate reading material is easy.

Child Reading Score Limitations

Child reading scores are helpful, but it’s always important to remember the score may not fully express your child’s reading ability. Children who find tests stressful, for instance, may be capable of reading at higher levels when they’re relaxed. Scores also do not factor in a child’s knowledge of the book’s subject; the more someone knows about a topic, the easier reading about that topic becomes.

Scores also fail to account for an important consideration: motivation. As the Harry Potter phenomena demonstrated, when kids are motivated and interested in books, their reading levels can prove much higher than expected.

Estimating Your Child’s Reading Ability

How do you determine if a book is appropriate for your child’s reading level if you don’t know your child’s reading score? The “five fingers” method will help you decide if the child can read the material independently or require adult help.

Have the child read two or three pages, raising a finger whenever he has difficulty understanding. If he only raises one finger, the book is suitable for independent reading. Two or three fingers suggests he can read the book with adult help. Four or more fingers means the reading level is too high for the child. He may enjoy having the book read to him, but he’s not yet ready to tackle it on his own.